“You don’t have to be a science geek,” to participate in OSR,” said Jade Mandel, a Mamaroneck High School senior presenting her project on motives behind teens’ clothing purchases at the Original Science Research Symposium on Thursday, May 28. ”Your only boundary is the scientific method.”
Judging from the range of subjects showcased by the sixty-some students, the boundaries of the scientific method are wide. The MHS library was packed by faculty, parents, students and community members perusing original research presentations on topics as diverse as immunology, genetics and baseball.
The wide variety of topics is no surprise given the diversity of students participating in the program. Of the fourteen seniors completing the three-year program many are going on to study natural sciences, engineering and life sciences, as might be expected. But several are pursuing majors related to literature, languages and art history.
“This has been a banner year for the OSR program that has flourished under [teacher-advisor] Guido Garbarino’s inspired leadership,” said MHS Principal Dr. Mark Orfinger. Three MHS seniors were selected as semifinalists in the Intel Science Talent Search. and three students recently made the trip to Reno, Nevada as finalists in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) ( see 3 MHS Students To Compete at Intel Science Fair).
The OSR Program: A Year of Early Mornings and Three Years of Dedication
The awards have required significant commitments.
MHS students interested in OSR must complete a non-credit Introduction to Science Research in their freshman year, coming to school at 7:00 am two mornings a week. Mr. Garbarino and his colleague, retiring Hommocks science teacher Chris Ward, teach the kids how to do a literature search, design and execute an experiment, and prepare a scientific paper and poster. The freshmen present their projects to the OSR upperclassmen, who come to a morning session as judges.
Beginning in the sophomore year, OSR is a proper elective, with credit, grades and regularly scheduled classes. A few kids who could not otherwise work the class into their schedules come at lunch.
Students pick an area of general interest and then work to narrow it, completing and documenting four hours of independent work outside class each week.
Students also spend time hunting for local researchers to serve as mentors. Mr. Garbarino reported that approximately 35 mentors are associated with the program, many of whom have taken on more than one student.
Mentors, who come from all walks of the natural, social and medical sciences, guide the students in their research, mostly through e-mail and phone conversations. Some students work in their mentors’ laboratories after school or on weekends.
Students often work with their mentors during summers after sophomore and junior years; more than half of the most successful OSR students work full-time during their summers, generally without pay. Senior Nifer Fasman, who was selected as an Intel semifinalist and also competed in the Intel ISEF, worked for two summers at The New York Botanical Garden.
By the fall of senior year, OSR students have written a rough draft of their papers. Papers for the Intel competition are due November 15. After that, the students prepare scientific posters and hone their presentation skills.
What Do the Kids Get Out of It?
Aside from a shot at an award, OSR students take away a variety of transferrable skills. Mr. Garbarino noted that students spend a lot of time learning to write professional correspondence and research papers. Junior Daniel Cooney agreed, noting that the process improves communication skills greatly, because of the writing and the practice and preparation that go into oral presentations.
The OSR program is very collaborative, Mr. Garbarino explained, with a fair amount of group brainstorming. Students learn to criticize and evaluate their own work and that of their peers.
Even students who do not stay with the program all four years benefit from the discipline, said a parent whose son dropped out. Further, learning early on that you are not interested in a research career is not a bad thing to discover before picking a college, she noted.
A Case Study: Marrying Sports and Science
Junior Daniel Cooney came to his topic as a freshman, adding “the physics of baseball” to a laundry list of more typical-sounding science projects that he might like to pursue. His interest in baseball led him to the testing protocol at the NCAA Baseball Research Center at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell.
Tests had shown aluminum and wooden bats to hit balls at the same speed, but Daniel believed that those results might be skewed because they assumed the same swing speed for both types of bats. Positing that a batter would achieve a higher swing speed with an aluminum bat because the weight distribution would be closer to the batter’s hands, Daniel confirmed his thesis in his sophomore year. He clocked high school batters and measured swing speeds as approximately 10% faster with aluminum bats than with wooden.
Daniel went to Lowell over the summer and plugged different speeds for the two bat types into the NCAA protocol. He was able to determine that the different swing speeds resulted in significantly different ball exit speeds.
In the fall of this year, Daniel contacted an MIT professor at the Center for Sports Innovation, who referred him to a former student working in bat development at Rawlings. Rawlings provided Daniel with an aluminum bat with the weight distributed like a wooden bat, and Daniel has been clocking the speeds of MHS baseball players using the two types of bats. Not surprisingly, the speeds of these two similarly weighted bats were very similar, and Daniel will be comparing them up at the Lowell testing site this summer. He expects that the two bats will have similar ball exit speeds.
Why does this matter? Daniel explained that an aluminum bat weighted like a wooden one would be both “safer and more cost effective.” The slower speed would allow pitchers to get out of the way, and as aluminum bats do not crack like wooden ones, they are more cost effective.
Growing the OSR Program
Last year, Mr. Garbarino had seven students enter the Intel Science Talent Search and twelve compete in the Westchester Science and Engineering Fair, which leads to the Intel ISEF. Next year, he expects to double those numbers.
Parents of OSR students are working behind the scenes, not only by supporting their children’s individual efforts, but also by raising money to help improve the presentation level of junior and senior OSR presenters.
Next year, students will be asked to print their posters professionally (at a cost of $60 per poster). The parents committee is raising money for scholarships.
In addition, many presenters at Westchester science competitions now use “permanent” wooden presentation boards. Parents will be raising money for the materials to build 24 reusable boards (at a cost of $100 each) and working with Mr. Garbarino to build and varnish the boards over the summer.
Inquiries about contributing to “Friends of OSR” may be directed to OSR parent Robert Greenberg.